Oxygen Not Included, aka ONI, is an amazing game I immediately recommend to anyone who likes thinking/managing games. It is made by Klei Studios, the masterminds who made Don’t Starve and a couple of other such gems.

You start off with three cutely animated mini humans, called “dupes” from “duplicants” at the center of a randomly-generated asteroid. The game runs from a side angle, so it’s completely two-dimensional. But if you think if this sounds simple, dear friend, you’re in for a surprise.

The dupes need to eat, so you give them food from a little yellow box until it runs out. Meanwhile, as the day progresses, they need to go to the bathroom, so you need to build them some. To build stuff, you dig away at the asteroid, which is made of different materials such as sandstone, copper, and sand (depending on your biome, of which there are plenty). You quickly discover that not all places can be dug out and that some are blocked until one of the little guys becomes more proficient in digging. They squeak and talk and give high-fives to each other as they work and dig, and eventually need to go to bed, which you need to build for them, or they will sleep on the ground and will become “unrested,” one of the many conditions which they can develop. In the morning, you realize that because the dupes were using the bathroom without washing their hands, they became sick, and if they’re sick, they spread germs, which is a whole thing in itself, and then they can vomit, and if they vomit, there will be vomit all over your base, which will ooze away at your clean water supply, which…

Look, just trust me when I say what I described does not even scratch the basics of the game’s first hour.

Being an adorably animated game (they have all kinds of cute critters as well) is one area that makes this management game unique. Another area worth mentioning is the science behind it. So far, it’s the most science-like game I know that still keeps things interesting. It’s a delicate balance that breaks for me in other more sciency games, but this one keeps it just right.

For example, you can dig out coal in your asteroid, which you can use with a coal generator to produce electricity, but that means CO2 will mix with the oxygen, and if you have too little space for it in your base, it will eventually spread and choke up your dupes. The generator also heats the base, which will eventually cause plants to stop growing, which means you won’t have any food. To counter that, you can stash this generator somewhere far (but not too far because getting coal to it will become a problem, not to mention building power cables back and forth). But, because CO2 is heavier than oxygen, you can put it next to a dip hole in the ground, and it will fill it up steadily, pushing the oxygen up to your dupes. Later on you can build a gas pump to pump CO2 somewhere else where you can use it (or even dump it into the void of space if you’re an evil environmentalist)

And power is just one such example. I highlighted gas above (of which the game has about 20), and other similar complex systems including liquids (pipes, pumps, filters, and more), entertainment and moral (dupes can get depressed in the game), transportation, and more. All of these systems come with their own unique problems and solutions, which in turn cause other problems you didn’t predict, to which you need to find more solutions.

Lastly, I should also mention that this is one of the most well-maintained games I’ve ever played, and it is easily one of the best investments you can get out of a computer game. ONI came out in 2017, and 7 years later, there are still updates every month. These updates are not just bug fixes: there are new plot twists, more options to play the game, better UI, and more - and I’m not even mentioning the active modding community of this game. Keli Studios understands their audience is usually geeks, so they have the game natively support Linux on Steam (and, of course, macOS), where I spent much of my time playing it. So far, the only extra money I spenton its single DLC, Spaced Out. Worth every penny.

If you’re a geek—and if you’re reading this on my blog, you probably are—do yourself a favor and at least check this game out. It’s highly recommended.